By on August 12, 2019

While public interest in crossovers has encouraged Nissan to rejigger its global offerings, the automaker has refused to abandon small sedans. It’s something we’ve seen across the board with Japanese automakers. As the crossover craze hit full swing, both Toyota and Honda said that abandoning entry-level automobiles might mean leaving first-time buyers behind. Despite crossovers bringing in more customers and money, small sedans and hatchbacks have a tendency to reel in new, young customers. Japanese brands sees the prospect of gaining life-long patrons as an advantage, especially as other automakers (*ahem, the Detroit Three*) shift away from such vehicles.

Nissan’s situation is more complicated. It can’t ignore its bottom line after last months’s dismal financial report, and rumors abound that it will soon begin to pair down its lineup. However, that will not involve culling its small-car offerings. 

According to Automotive News, the brand’s logic is the same as what’s accepted by Toyota and Honda. Nissan sees the likes of the Versa and Sentra as useful tools in capturing new customers and says it has no plans to discontinue either.

“We still see in these segments 5 million car sales a year,” explained Scott Shirley, Nissan’s vice president of marketing operations. “We are redoubling our forecast; we are concentrating on delivering much better value, much stronger product to the market and a much better ownership experience.”

From Automotive News:

Nissan executives contend lower-cost small cars remain relevant, especially for price-conscious first-time car buyers. They point to Nissan-commissioned research that shows 78 percent of American drivers who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon. Meanwhile, 86 percent of buyers between ages 18 and 34 who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon, according to the research.

The target customer for Nissan’s compact cars “is far more aligned with sedans,” Shirley said.

With Ford and other U.S. auto brands cutting their losses and exiting the sedan market, Nissan sees an opportunity to grab a larger slice of the shrinking pie. The Sentra and Versa combined to account for 13.4 percent of the U.S. small-car market last year, up from 10.9 percent five years ago.

The majority of that has gone to the Sentra, however. Domestic Versa deliveries declined from 144,528 units in 2015 to just 75,809 in 2018. By contrast, the Sentra saw a modest uptick in sales; Nissan has consistently moved over 200,000 annual units in the U.S. since 2015.

Nissan expects lower volumes for 2019; however, that will be due partially to its decision to move away from fleet sales. Rather than perpetually hunting down volume, the brand’s previous modus operandi, Nissan hopes to improve its retail margins without leaning on heavy incentives. A challenge, but one Shirley claimed the manufacturer is up for.

“We expect that we can grow the retail sales volume,” he said. “We also recognize that there is a profitable, rational level of fleet that can be done as well.”

Nissan’s plan hinges on sprucing up fleet models with more content. While it likely won’t occur overnight, Nissan has already updated the Versa to that effect. The same can be expected for the Sentra before year’s end — resulting in a better-equipped car with a new look and revised powertrain for 2020. The trick will be finding balance. Nissan can’t abandon fleet sales outright, nor can it assume consumers will immediately sweep up its improved compact and sedan offerings, but it might be able to chisel out a place for itself as other companies focus primarily on crossover vehicles.

[Images: Nissan]

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16 Comments on “Bucking the Trend, Nissan Insists It’s Still Committed to Small Cars...”

  • avatar

    re: the Sentra

    >> Nissan has consistently moved over 200,000 annual units in the U.S. since 2015

    This is a surprising number to me because I rarely see the car around here. You’re more likely to see a Cruze or a Malibu, which have (or had) similar numbers. Must be a Midwest thing.

    The Altima, on the other hand, is all over the place.

    • 0 avatar

      I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of Sentras I’ve seen in the PNW that don’t have rental sled barcodes on them.

      I have no idea who is buying the Sentra. When it comes to Nissan sedans, the Altima is everywhere.

      • 0 avatar

        We have a ton of them on the south and west side of Chicago. Mostly younger African American women who tend to drive them very aggressively. Thus, they are noticeable.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with the Altima being everywhere, but there could be lots of Sentras around, you just don’t know it, as in invisible appliance!

      • 0 avatar

        Good point. This comment should also be in the anonymous car thread. The fact Nissan has sold a million of ’em in the last five years, and nobody remembers seeing them, is telling.

        • 0 avatar

          I rented one. Went into a store and when I came out, there were several parked in the vicinity of where I thought the car was. If it wasn’t for the remote, it would have taken me a while to find it.

    • 0 avatar

      It appears to me from my last few trips that they are all Uber/Lyft cars in California.

  • avatar

    We had a Nissan Tiida in Nicaragua as a rental with 48KM on the clock. I can’t remember the model year, the rental was in 2018 and I do remember the vehicle was several years old.

    Nicaragua’s main highways are mostly paved in the western part of the country. The highway that runs from Rivas to San Juan del Sur is first world grade – albeit driving like you’re in a first world free-range area.

    The rental had a manual, which I was relieved and the staff was surprised I was happy I was getting (commenting that most American’s are upset with a manual because they don’t know how to drive one). It had AC, AM/FM CD, a spare tire that had the wrong bolt pattern (ask me how I know), and aftermarket tinted windows all around, including most of the windshield.

    Off the main highways, the roads are a combination of rutted pavement, cobblestones, a type of smoother paver bricks, or dirt/gravel. The Chocolate Road along the Pacific Coast is all dirt, with a vision to pave it. Oh, one other thing about Nicaragua – speed bumps EVERYWHERE and most of them unmarked. There also is really no consistency on the standard for the bumps with some of them practically being curbs you crash over.

    The little Nissan did everything we asked it to do – almost. There was significant flooding at Moyogalpa as you came off the ferry, and the little Nissan high centered on a sand berm. A group of Nicas came out and cheerfully helped push, nothing asked for beyond gratitude.

    Other spot where there was no joy was on a road in the jungle out to one of the volcanoes. It had a significant washout and a group in a pickup truck warned we would not be able to get by stating they barely got by in their Hilux. They seemed quite stunned I had bounced the little Nissan that far. When I got to the area I walked out and scouted – ya – that was disaster waiting to happen.

    The AC was cold, adequate passing power, good visibility, great maneuverability, good ride height, and a near unlimited capacity for abuse. The trunk swallowed everything we could toss in it. I was very impressed, and it was infinitely better than the Chevy Aveo piece of crap I had in Mexico the year before.

    The Versa is a great B-segment car and under-appreciated. The previous generation third-world under-pinning become a liability in a North American market, but I always smile a little bit inside when I see that generation Versa with steelies here in the states.

  • avatar

    Small cars, but not small hatchbacks.

  • avatar

    Sentra looks good.
    Tall car. Great greenhouse it looks like.
    I hate driving most cars. Bunker with gun slit visibility.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “They point to Nissan-commissioned research that shows 78 percent of American drivers who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon. Meanwhile, 86 percent of buyers between ages 18 and 34 who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon, according to the research.”

    While I applaud Nissan’s commitment to small cars, their Kool-Aid research is for the birds. This is as wacky as the research claiming 1/2 (or whatever) new car buyers would consider an EV.

    However, as the article states… as others retreat from the segment, Nissan will gain sales.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Just today I considered buying a sedan…There was a beautiful, 33,000 mile 1992 LS400 on Bring a Trailer. I was actually there to look for a Sentra, as I do dutifully twice a week. Unfortunately again for Nissan it was a 91-94 B13 SE-R.

      New Sedan…well, maybe an Alfa. New Nissan Sedan, umm, no.

  • avatar

    “Nissan Insists It’s Still Committed to Small Cars”
    Nissan abandoning small cars would be like Pepsi abandoning soft drinks. Sure, they have other products, but…
    Nissan started with small cars. And trucks. If they are going to return to their fundamentals, it would make sense for them to CONCENTRATE on small cars while they get their STUFF back together. They are a mess right now but I wish them luck.

  • avatar

    >>> PARE down its lineup <<<

    Kids these days !

  • avatar

    Chevrolet abandoned the Cruze and they were selling over 200,000 annual US & Canada combined.

    I just spent a week with a Nissan Sentra and I’d take just about any compact instead of the Sentra. Except for FIAT. Well, unless it was an Abarth FIAT.

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